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Learning About Helping Your Child Recover After a Traumatic Event

What is a traumatic event?

A traumatic event is a very upsetting event that your child sees or that happens to your child or someone they love. It may put someone's life in danger. Or it may cause serious injury. A car crash, a wildfire, the death of a loved one, abuse, and violence are some examples.

How can it affect your child?

Children respond to traumatic events in different ways. But having some type of reaction is common. Children may react to the event right away, or days, weeks, or months later.

After the event your child may:

  • Have changes in their emotions, such as:
    • Worrying a lot about the event happening again.
    • Having temper tantrums or angry outbursts.
    • Crying more than usual.
    • Having unusual worries or anxiety. For example, your child may not want to leave you.
  • Have changes in their behaviours, such as:
    • Returning to earlier behaviours, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting.
    • Having trouble getting along with their siblings or other children.
    • Becoming very quiet or spending more time alone.
    • Eating more or less than usual.
    • Having nightmares about the event.
  • Have physical changes, such as:
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Headaches, dizziness, or stomach aches that can't be explained.

Most children get better over time. But if you're concerned about your child's symptoms or behaviours, contact your child's doctor or counsellor.

If you feel your child might hurt themself, get help right away. Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. Go to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention web page at http://suicideprevention.ca/resources to find a suicide crisis prevention centre in your area.

How can you support your child?

Here are some ways you can support your child after a traumatic event.

  • Seek counselling.

    A trained counsellor can offer your child some extra help. You may also want to find a counsellor for yourself. You can ask your doctor for a referral. Or you might contact the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Visit the CMHA website at https://cmha.ca/find-help/find-cmha-in-your-area for help finding a counsellor in your area.

  • Offer comfort.

    What helps your child feel safe and loved? Maybe it's extra hugs. Or it could be snuggling and reading books together.

  • Be calm.

    Respond calmly when your child is upset. If you're feeling emotional, it's okay to take some time to yourself.

  • Encourage communication.

    Listen closely when your child shares how they feel. If your child struggles to put their feelings into words, you could do activities together, like drawing or storytelling.

  • Be open about your feelings.

    When you are honest about how you feel, it teaches your child that their feelings are okay too.

  • Stick to routines.

    Children do better when they know what to expect. Follow your usual schedule for things like bedtime, meals, school, and activities.

  • Make sure your child doesn't spend too much time alone.

    Plan time for your child to play with friends. And plan time to do fun things together as a family.

  • Lean on others when needed.

    Reach out to people your child trusts and enjoys being around. This could be grandparents, other family members, and close friends.

  • Take care of yourself.

    Do things that you enjoy. It may be reading a favourite book or spending time with a close friend. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. And eat healthy foods.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.